Patna: With only about 2,000 Gangetic river dolphins left in India, down from tens of thousands just a few decades ago, the Bihar government is planning to set up Asia's first research centre to strengthen conservation efforts to save the endangered mammal.
An official in the chief minister's office said the Gangetic dolphin research centre would be set up in Patna, where dozens of dolphins can still be seen in the stretch of the river near the state capital.
The man behind the proposal is RK Sinha, an expert on Gangetic river dolphins and chairperson of the working group for dolphin conservation set up by the central government. He said the centre was suggested by the Planning Commission and subsequently received "in principle" approval by the state government.
"A final decision in this regard is likely soon," said Sinha, popularly known as the dolphin man.
Gopal Sharma, a scientist with the Zoological Survey of India here, said the centre would carry out research activities on the dolphin and also conduct a census in rivers in Bihar.
The Vikramshila Gangetic Dolphin Sanctuary, India's only dolphin sanctuary, spread over 50 km along the Ganges, is located in Bihar's Bhagalpur district.
The Gangetic river dolphin is India's national aquatic animal but frequently falls prey to poachers. Their carcasses are found regularly on river banks.
The mammals are killed at an alarming rate with wildlife officials saying poachers kill them for their flesh and oil, which is used as an ointment and aphrodisiac.
Gangetic river dolphins fall under Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act and have been declared an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Last year, the Bihar government decided to set up a task force for the conservation of endangered species.
The Gangetic river dolphin is one of the four freshwater dolphin species in the world. The other three are found in the Yangtze river in China, the Indus river in Pakistan and the Amazon river in South America.
The Gangetic river species - found in India, Bangladesh and Nepal - is blind and finds its way and prey in the river waters through 'echoes'.